21 December 2008

The Thief and the Dogs, by Naguib Mahfouz

I wasn't that taken with Mahfouz's Arabian Nights and Days, though it's quite likely that it was my fault, and not the book's, but in any case, I was quite impressed by The Thief and the Dogs. In a strange sort of way, it actually reminds me a lot of The Informer and Miałem Tylko Jedno Życie - hopefully something I can think about more when I finish my PhD... In any case, what's curious about it is that it's a revenge story, but one where everything goes wrong. I don't want to give away too much, so I guess I'll stick with saying that things don't work out the way they should (in a standard revenge plot), and in the process, the whole premise of revenge is questioned. It's really kind of fascinating. At the same time, there's this kind of subtle reflection on ideals and beliefs, a quiet juxtaposition of religion and politics, and the kinds of truths they offer, that was really interesting. And then there's the socio-political element, a look at life in Egypt - something that I know nothing about, really.

The prose is marvelously evocative for such a sparse work. I tore through the novel in fits and starts during the day today* - I had a hard time putting it down. Maybe it's because I knew a little better what to expect, but I really appreciated the mildly opaque quality of Mahfouz's storytelling. Especially intriguing is the way he plays with the reliability of the narrator - the text is so close to first person that some people describe it as stream of consciousness, but in actuality, as the novel progresses you move further and further from him, and you become more aware of how his mind works, wondering, for instance, if he isn't deluding himself when he thinks he's in love, and beginning to question whether the justice he seeks is actually so virtuous. Really, quite a remarkable book.

*Ah, the pleasures of immersing yourself in a good book while traveling (I'm currently on vacation in Florida with my parents. Florida is neato! Crocodiles! Dolphins! Manatees! Sharks! Blue herons! Bald Eagles! Great food! Palm trees! What fun!). I mentioned this in my review of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Really, there's something so wonderful and decadent about it. While you end up missing out on a lot of things you ought to be looking at during your travels, that book ends up being far more firmly enshrined in your memory than the ones you read at home. It's so glorious.

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